In early August, the Kwicksutaineuk/Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation (KAFN) has announced that it will renew its legal action against the governments of Canada and British Columbia to protect wild salmon against diseases spread by fish farm operations.
“There’s nothing more central to the territories of our people than wild salmon,” said KAFN chief Bob Chamberlin. “We have built an incredible culture based on feasting, based on extracting resources from our waters to provide for our peoples. And the governments have decided to take a course of action that completely puts wild salmon at risk.”
What sets this lawsuit apart from similar legal actions launched by First Nations against government is that it is a class action, meaning that a large group of people – in this case, an aboriginal collective – have joined together to bring their claim to court. If successful, this would be the first class-action lawsuit advanced by a First Nation in Canada to protect aboriginal fishing rights.
What is at stake here is more than just aboriginal fishing rights, or even the survival of our sacred wild salmon stocks. It would also set a critical legal precedent giving Canada’s indigenous nations access to the same legal tools available to other Canadians.
However, many hurdles remain for the KAFN before a successful outcome. The class action was initially certified (i.e. given the go-ahead) by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Harry Slade in December 2010. But the governments of Canada and B.C. appealed this decision, which was overturned in May 2012.
In a bizarre decision hinging on legal technicalities, Justice Nicole Garson reversed her colleague’s initial decision to grant KAFN the right to sue as a class action, by arguing that the First Nation could not clearly identify its class members…
In response, the KAFN has decided to take its case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. “This decision cannot remain unchallenged”, Chief Chamberlin commented to explain his nation’s decision to pursue its legal challenge.